Baptized into Something New
SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT [b] December 10, 2017
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'” 4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.
All the country of Judea, all the city of Jerusalem, were going out to this strange place in the wilderness to hear this oddly dressed and strangely speaking prophet, John.
They were going out to him, says the text. That is, they were leaving one thing, and going out to another. They were leaving behind something, in order to gain something else.
So they were picking up from their houses in the city, from their homes in the suburbs, from their businesses and community concerns, leaving it behind, and going out to something strange and new.
Because, you don’t get any stranger than a man dressed in camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey who happens to be a holy prophet of the most High God, and you don’t getting anything newer than, repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Repentance, that’s what John was preaching. Not just contrition, but repentance into the forgiveness of sins.
Contrition just means you regret what you did. It means you are sorry about it, it means you feel the guilt, you know the shame, and wish you hadn’t done it.
Contrition is to belong to every sinner—the sinner who is sorry over his sin, the sinner who is trying to cover up his sin, the sinner who is trying to point out the sins of others so no one will look at his.
The prophet John is not preaching contrition. He is preaching repentance.
Repentance is not something you do or feel. It is not your effort. You can’t gin it up inside of yourself. Repentance is God’s gift to you. And God gives it to you in the preaching of his Word—that’s where John the Baptist comes in.
He is preaching repentance unto forgiveness. And repentance includes contrition, but it even more so includes faith that every sin is forgiven.
This repentance can be worked only by the Lord. The Lord works it by bringing you to contrition through his word of Law, and then, having nailed you down as being a sinner by his Law, he rescues you from that contrition by the Gospel.
The Gospel is what is new. Law, accusation, contrition—that’s old, everyone has it; for that, you can stay back in Jerusalem and Judea with the Sadducees and Pharisees. The Gospel is new. It is newness of life. It is to leave the old behind, and brought forward into life.
So the people are going out to the wilderness to hear John, leaving behind what they knew before, what they’ve been enmeshed in their whole lives.
What they are leaving behind is the doctrine of the Sadducees, and the doctrine of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law.
The Sadducees are in Jerusalem at the Temple. The Pharisees are at the synagogues in all the town and villages throughout Judea.
The Sadducees teach people how to dress proudly, how to put on a good show, how to think you are in good shape before God if you have good spiritual thoughts and, oh, by the way, if you give good offerings at the Jerusalem Temple.
That’s all works-righteousness. It’s trying to justify yourself by how you live. It’s dealing with guilt and shame by being contrite. And the prophet John calls on them to leave all that behind in Jerusalem, in order to be baptized into repentance unto the forgiveness of sins.
The Pharisees teach people how to live clean lives by the Law, how to hold everyone accountable, how to shift the focus from yourself by pointing out the errors of others, how to think you are in good shape before God if you follow their rules and systems, and, oh, by the way, if you’re good at tithing.
That’s all works-righteousness, too. It’s trying to justify yourself by your obedience. It’s a demand to be contrite over sin. And the prophet John calls on them to leave all that behind at the synagogues throughout the towns of Judea, in order to be baptized into repentance unto the forgiveness of sins.
Leave behind the old. The works-righteousness, the living in contrition without knowing the word which frees from guilt, the fear of being found wanting in your life before God, the shame of living among sinners who are all too willing to point out your sin, the malice of pointing out the sin of others, trying to use the Law to coerce them to do better—leave it all behind.
All that belongs with the Sadducees in Jerusalem and the Pharisees and teachers of the Law in the towns of Judea. It does not belong with John.
So leave it behind and go out to hear this strange, new word spoken by the prophet. It is strange, for it is foreign to everything our world knows, it is alien to our own sinful flesh which tries to justify self, and it is spoken not to put under the Law, but to release from the Law.
It is new, for it bestows what releases the sinner from the old—releases from guilt and fear and shame and retribution, and it creates that which was not there before it was spoken. It is a creative, life-giving word, creating the new heart of faith, giving the life of repentance unto the forgiveness of sins.
For repentance is not just contrition over sin, but it is, much more, faith that Christ Jesus has clothed you in his own righteousness in Baptism.
Repentance is not just the Word of Law, which always accuses, but it is, much more, the Word of Gospel, which alone cleanses the sinner, bestows life, and brings always into newness.
John is preaching the Word of newness, the Word bestowing gifts, the Word bringing the sinner face-to-face with Christ Jesus, who is, as John says, The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
He takes away our sin, and the sin of our families, and the sin of all our brothers and sisters here gathered. Christ holds no sin against us; we hold no sin against one another.
We all have our own Jerusalem of the Sadducees, our own towns and cities of the Pharisees.
We all have our own enslavement to that which is old, to past sins we have committed against another, to past sins having been committed against us, and the call of the Law is, Get it all evened up; hold onto the retribution; keep telling the old stories to bring shame; let nothing go; remain under the Law.
But the call of the Gospel is, Leave it all behind; come hear the Word making all things new; come and see Jesus face-to-face in his Body and Blood where he is cleansing you of all that is old; rejoice in the forgiveness the Lord bestows upon you and in the forgiveness the Lord bestows upon those who have sinned against you; hear the comfort of the pardon of all your guilt; speak and sing this comfort with all your brothers and sister in Christ.
The call of the Gospel is, look to what is made new in Christ, remain in your clothing of righteousness—remain in your Baptism.
IN THE NAME OF JESUS.